Betting on a Syndie Trifecta

Oct 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

There’s a new syndie player in town and headed to NATPE.

Hank Cohen, former president of MGM TV Entertainment, has formed a unique style of boutique syndication company with three other MGM veterans.

Dubbed Trifecta, the company is fashioning itself as a full-service production-barter sales-distribution company that specializes in smaller-scale properties overlooked by the ever-consolidating syndication giants.

The group quietly launched last year with seed money from an exit deal Mr. Cohen struck with MGM. Trifecta took producing fees from shows Mr. Cohen ran at MGM (such as “Stargate SG1,” “Stargate: Atlantis” and Showtime’s “Barbershop”) in exchange for Mr. Cohen’s continuing to oversee the shows for a one-year term.

As Trifecta CEO, Mr. Cohen brought in MGM’s Michael Daraio to lead ad sales, Scott Spungin to run business and legal affairs and Shelley Brown to head the finance department. All are titled as partners with the company, which has grown to six staffers in Los Angeles, nine in New York. Trifecta plans to exhibit in two suites at the National Association of Television Program Executives conference in January.

Benefits From Mergers

At a time when consolidation is driving companies out of business, Mr. Cohen said, mergers are actually giving Trifecta business.

“Opportunities are coming up because there’s been so much consolidation,” Mr. Cohen said. “The smaller jobs fall through the cracks. We’re there to pick those up. Whereas five years ago, this would have been tougher to do.”

So far Trifecta produces, barters and distributes the weekly series “Heartland Poker Tour” and provides barter ad sales functions for about a dozen other niche properties, including “National Geographic Really Wild Animals” and “Whacked Out Sports.”

Trifecta is close to finalizing deals to roll out several new projects in time for NATPE. Those include a new series with naturalist Jack Hanna, a “Surreal Life”-meets-“People’s Court” series called “Jury Duty,” a syndicated version of AMC’s “Sunday Morning Shootout” and several others.

The company is on the hunt for more syndicated products that require advertiser sales, and has plans to develop and distribute additional original weeklies and strips of its own.

“We’re trying to be as creative in our deals as in our shows,” Mr. Cohen said, adding that Trifecta has unscripted cable and broadcast ambitions as well.

New Opportunities

Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV Group, said opportunities may in fact abound now for a new model of syndication company.

“There were a lot more mid-level companies before consolidation; now there’s majors and boutiques, and the boutiques can take advantage of opportunities in the marketplace,” he said. “If you’re a major, going after some of these deals is like trying to turn the Queen Mary around in the Hudson River. But if you’re a boutique, it’s like you have a speedboat.”

Whether Trifecta can add more desirable programming to its slate will be key to the outfit thriving, said Garnett Losak, VP and director of programming for Petry TV.

Ms. Losak noted that while uniquely positioned companies such as Trifecta certainly stand to succeed in the current landscape, the quality of their shows remains far more important than a company’s structure or business model.

“With King World and Paramount merging, this might be a good time to start a boutique company,” she said. “But the bottom line is still going to be how good your content is.”